Last Wednesday, Walmart pharmacies joined the fight against the opioid epidemic by releasing a product that provides their patients with a safe way to dispose unused opioid prescription drugs… without having to leave their house.
What is DisposeRx?
The new product called DisposeRx, is a powder that comes in a small packet. Walmart will be providing one of these to everyone filling opioid prescriptions at their pharmacy. The packet is emptied into the pill bottle, and when mixed with warm water, all forms of opioid drugs (powder, pills, tablets, liquids, patches, capsules) remaining in the bottle turn into a biodegradable gel that cannot be separated or converted back into a usable drug. In their statement, Walmart vouched this product was the first of it’s kind and it’s ingredients have been FDA approved.
Why We Need It
In 2016, there were over 63,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States, more than half of which resulted from opioids. Though the culprits behind the rise have been illicit drugs and fentanyl, there has also been a spike in prescription drug misuse – evident in treatment admissions for prescription drug use disorders. In 2014, almost 2 million Americans were dependent on prescription opioids. Additionally, every day, over 1,000 people are treated in emergency departments for misusing them. Unintentional overdose deaths involving opioid pain relievers have more than quadrupled since 1999.
In order to further understand the use of opioid medications among U.S. adults, researchers at Johns Hopkins University conducted a national study to examine the prevalence of prescription-sharing and medication storage and disposal practices. They surveyed over a thousand prescription opioid users and found that:
- 20.7% reported having shared their prescription medication with someone else
- 8.6% reported storing their medication in a locked location
- 61.3% of those who had leftover medication, reported keeping it for future use
- 48.7% did not recall receiving information on safe medication storage
- 45.3% did not recall receiving information on safe medication disposal
It is precisely these issues that Walmart is attempting to curb. In addition to the disposal solution, which, by the way, Walmart will be giving out for free, Walmart’s 4,700 pharmacies nationwide will also distribute an awareness brochure outlining risks and helpful resources to those filling their prescription opioids.
Bring on the Criticism
Critics of DisposeRx critisize that the powder is a waste of resources and will not change a thing. Andrew Kolodny, co-director of the Opioid Policy Research Collaborative at Brandeis University, has stated, “It’s nice that they’re trying, but it will have little impact.”
Kolodny may have a point. This is not the first time we’re addressing unused prescription opioids. The CDC has, for a long time, been advising to flush unused prescription opioids down the toilet or take them to a drug take-back program. The DEA has also aimed to provide means of disposal while recently having it’s fourteenth “National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day” with the next one scheduled for April 28th, 2018.
Additional measures to reduce prescription misuse in the past include TimerCaps, replacement caps for pill bottles that, using a digital timer, show when the bottle was last opened. There was also the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) 2011 webinar on using prescription medications properly. Of course, physicians have also been targeted in 2016, with the federal government launching an initiative and providing a guideline promoting more cautious and responsible prescribing.
Personally, I’m not as pessimistic as Dr. Kolodny. Call me naïve, but I appreciate Walmart acknowledging the severity of the opioid epidemic and being not only proactive but also creative in the way they’re addressing it. Even if DisposeRx is temporary, at the very least it still provides an opportunity for pharmacists to begin a conversation on the risks of and safer use of prescription opioids, and… well… that’s good enough for me!
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